Kentucky harvests hemp crop Sept. 23

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — University of Kentucky researchers harvested the university’s first hemp crop in decades Sept. 23.

“It was a good growing season for many crops, not just hemp,” said David Williams, UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment agronomist and co-project lead. “Precipitation was excellent this year and more than adequate for growth. The only downside to the growing season was that we planted a little bit late, but I don’t think that had much effect on the crop.”

The university’s research plot, planted May 27, was one of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s pilot studies to reintroduce hemp production in Kentucky. UK’s study was conducted in conjunction with Eastern Kentucky University and Kentucky State University.

The hemp pilot projects were the first hemp crop in Kentucky in almost 70 years.

Former national leader

Kentucky was a national leader in hemp production before the crop was outlawed in the United States due to its similarity to marijuana. Many agricultural advances have occurred since then, so research trials were necessary to determine the crop’s viability in an ever-changing agricultural economy.

State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has championed the cause of returning hemp production to the commonwealth.

“This crop will yield significant data about production techniques, which varieties do best in Kentucky and which of the many uses of hemp are most likely to succeed here,” Comer said.

Used sickle mower

Researchers used a sickle bar mower to harvest the crop in the same manner that hay is harvested.

“Our plan was to simply lay the crop on the ground where the elements will begin to break down or ‘ret’ the hemp,” said Rich Mundell, co-project lead and an agronomist in the Kentucky Tobacco Research Development Center.

“Because the hemp was very tall (about 10 feet) we felt the sickle bar mower would do a better job than a more commonly used disc mower.”

The university’s research project included 13 varieties managed for either fiber production or seed production. After the harvest, researchers will analyze and compare the different varieties to find one that’s best suited for the state and then present the results to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

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